How to transform UMass into a more brotherly campus
One of the features that gives aspiring University of Massachusetts applicants pause – I know I was one – is the sheer size of the University. Switching from a high school of perhaps 2,000 students to a college with over 24,000 can be a shock. To combat this impression, different groups on campus market the University in different ways. Join Commonwealth College, we are told, it is a school within a school! Live in Orchard Hill instead of the overpopulated Southwest! Choose a small major; small classes and a closer rapport with professors will follow! At one point, I followed each of the above recommendations, but, still, the size and lack of a tight UMass community is one of the problems UMass faces.
This will be the first in a series looking at ways the University can shake things up and create a more close-knit student body.
Think about it. In what ways does UMass promote the community aspect of college? There are athletic events every weekend, but few of these are interesting enough to attract a large crowd. In the fall, football is a draw, but this is mostly used as an excuse to start drinking earlier. Of the two games I tailgated, few of the people I was with even bothered going into the game. In the winter, only men’s hockey and basketball attract a large crowd, but the basketball team’s struggles are a good enough excuse not to go. In the spring, softball and men’s lacrosse are fun, but they do not stir the emotions of the entire University.
School spirit for athletics is sorely lacking.
There are plays, concerts and other artistic events, but the vast majority of the student body prefers not to attend. The few plays I have attended have been well done but sparsely attended. The same goes for the couple of jazz concerts I have attended. It is unfortunate, but it is the truth. Various Registered Student Organizations do an incredible job of having meetings and outings, but they usually only concern a finite number of students.
It is apparent that the school needs to do things outside the box to bring the “we” back to “We are UMass.” Sitting in the library the other day, doing everything possible to avoid some tedious reading, it was impossible not to catch myself turning to the campus pond time and time again. The only things that seem to enjoy the campus pond, even in the winter, are some geese and some ducks. It is unfair! I want go swimming – well, that might be a little crazy. It is not the most appealing body of water I have ever seen, and although I have heard an interesting story about a friend’s adventure in the pond one night, I would not be one to go for a dip.
Yet, that is not the only option available. A yearly ritual among my friends is to sneak into the Lars Anderson rink in Brookline, Mass. to play some midnight hockey. Whenever possible, kids in my neighborhood routinely clean off a frozen pond in some woods normally reserved for underage drinking to play pond hockey. With this in mind, it was impossible not to imagine using the Campus Pond for hockey or ice skating. Imagine the spectacle of students cruising around the pond, once it freezes over, on skates between classes. Think the Bruins game at Fenway Park was a success? How many students would love an opportunity to play some pond puck right in the middle of campus? Sure, we could go to the Mini Mullins or play intramural hockey, but ice time and teams are severely limited.
Scientifically, such a plan may be out of reach. Looking at the pond, it never quite freezes all the way around meaning it is probably never thick enough to support skaters. If the water is stagnant, however, logically, it should freeze eventually once it gets cold enough. The pond freezing is only one sure roadblock. Of course, the University Administration would have problems with letting whomever skate, as there would be legal issues to be worked out. Further fears about regulating who skates, when and preventing drinking would be other obstacles. So, this idea is probably too far-fetched to have any legs.
The point is not that in order to create a more vibrant UMass community, UMass needs to figure a way to let us students play hockey on the campus pond. The point is that the current approach to building student cohesion is not working. Yes, this university is close, but there are distinct lines drawn between groups of people and no way to bring them all together. The athletics program will never get big enough to match the school spirit of a Penn State, Michigan or the University of Southern California, yet there are other ways of making it happen. More school sponsored activities that do not come from the usual college handbook might help. The campus pond is one example, next week I will look at another, more probable idea.
Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.